The topic of marriage and relationships consistently comes up in my coaching. I particularly enjoy working with clients on those issues relating to relationships because although marriage can be a great source of emotional turmoil and pain, it can also be the greatest source of happiness and feeling of connectedness one can experience. Being able to spot the earliest signs of trouble can help us make a course correction before it’s too late.
There are predictable patterns that point in the direction of disaster, but often, we as men, misinterpret the signals and assume our marriage is headed for fairer weather after a rough patch, instead of realizing we are headed for deadly waters.
One of those patterns looks like this…
A wife –not yours of course– is dissatisfied with something. She’s unhappy. Something is not working for her in the relationship. Maybe she’s not feeling heard, supported, cherished, or understood. And so, she talks. And she talks. She’s communicating and expressing her frustration or unhappiness.
Now if her partner is like most men, he’s not enjoying this process at all. She’s emotional and sometimes volatile, and it’s difficult to stay focused on the specific source of her unhappiness and not feel personally attacked. So her partner shuts down. He retreats in his proverbial cave. He may do that by tuning her out, physically leaving, or listening and quickly returning his focus on a friendlier topic. Of course, it does nothing to resolve the issue at hand, but let’s face it, running for the hills until she’s in a happier place can look very appealing at times!
If he continues to strive to avoid her emotionalism and consistently retreats to his cave until the coast is clear, his wife, feeling completely unheard, will grow more and more frustrated and she’s likely to continue expressing her unhappiness with more and more passion.
Until she stops.
On her side, this signals that the relationship is over. Emotionally, she has given up and disengaged. She’s done.
From his perspective, the relationship just took a turn for the better. He misinterprets this silence to mean that everything is OK. The “nagging and complaining” has stopped and there is peace! She seems to be doing things to make herself happy and she has ceased to focus on what’s not working in their marriage. Life is good again.
He could not be farther from the truth!
She’s planning her exit strategy! It may be quick or it make take years. But nevertheless she’s lost all hope that this marriage is workable and she’s preparing to walk. She might be going back to school or work if she wasn’t working outside the home previously or she might make career choices that will make the transition easier. She might find another love interest or become open to the idea, or she might shift her focus to more fulfilling family relationships like her children until the time is right.
When the day comes that she serves her husband divorce papers, he’s shocked. He thought things were great –maybe not great exactly, but good. This is coming out of the blue. Often, this is the point where he becomes very motivated to address what was not working in the marriage and he’s baffled to hear that she has no interest in repairing the marriage. She left emotionally a long time ago. She has worked through many of her feelings and although she may have more grieving to do, she’s way beyond turning back.
The irony here is that sometimes, this will be the trigger for him to change and adopt different behaviors and different beliefs. And if he moves on to another marriage, he may have become the man his first wife had hope he would be, which can be a source of sadness or anger for his ex-wife –but that’s another story.
The bottom line is that when it comes to marriage, silence is deadly, not golden. As uncomfortable as addressing the issues affecting our marriages may be, repeatedly running for the hills is often the surest way to get her to run for the door.
To your continued success,
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